NOTE: My full review of Antler Island will be published shortly. What follows is an abbreviated version.
The always jovial and friendly Lamont Brothers have developed a reputation of using clever and adorable components in their games. Their first release, Leapfrog, featured colorful rubber frogs, while their last two releases have included wonderful three-dimensional sheep and rats. Their latest release is Antler Island, wherein player’s pieces are whimsical stags. The presence of these special components never fails to generate considerable excitement amongst gamers, and no doubt helps boost sales.
The theme of Antler Island, while perfectly natural, may also be a bit too mature for younger audiences. Players represent stags whose main purpose is to mate with does, called “doeples” in game parlance. Victory tends to go to the player who is most successful in this task. Along the way, stags must gather food for sustenance and antler growth, both of which help in the inevitable conflicts with opposing stags. The theme is certain to cause some sophomoric chuckles and jokes from most males, but can be changed to “kissing” as opposed to mating in order to make it kid-friendly.
The game is played on a three level board, with each level divided into various territories. Each turn, players then secretly plot their actions for the turn on their player mat, allocating three tokens amongst four possible actions: move, eat, rut, and grow antlers. Players can perform the same action multiple times, but must execute them in numerical order. Thus, players must pre-plan all of their actions, and hope situations don’t arise to spoil those plans.
Players alternate taking one action at a time until all actions are performed. A stag may mate with a doe if it is located in the same territory and the “rut” action was chosen. The “eat” action permits the stag to eat all food tokens present in his territory. Food tokens range in value from 1 – 3, and can be used in conflict or to grow antlers. When the “grow antlers” action is chosen, the player may surrender as many food tokens as he desires, and add an amount of antlers to his mat equal to half the value of the food tokens surrendered. Players can get creative adding the antlers to the picture of their stag, creating an impressive or bizarre rack. This is reminiscent of Phillip Keyaerts’ Evo, wherein players can get creative when placing new body parts on their dinosaur caricature.
A conflict results if two stags occupy the same territory. The strength of a stag is determined by adding its number of antlers to the value of food tokens committed to the attack. Players can commit a maximum of three tokens to an attack. Either player may retreat prior to revealing food tokens, thereby conserving those tokens and preventing the loss of an antler if defeated. If an “antler lock” ensues, the player with the greatest strength wins a “wily tile”, a fight counter, and places the losing stag on any empty space. The losing stag also loses one antler. A player cannot win the game without earning a fight counter, so a completely pacifist approach cannot be pursued.
Some spice is added to the game with the “wily tiles”. These grant special abilities to the stags, such as extra movement or food, calling does in adjacent spaces into a stag’s territory, or even mating with multiple does with one action. That last tile is humorously titled “Rut your Stuff”! These tiles are earned when winning a conflict, and every time a stag’s antlers are increased to an even number.
The game ends at the conclusion of the round when at least one player has successfully mated with twelve or more does. Players receive points for the number of does with whom they have mated, as well as points for the level of the island they occupy. The player with the most points wins.
An advanced version of the game adds fighting cubes, which are confiscated from opponents when conflicts are won. Points are earned for capturing cubes from each player, as well protecting your own cubes. This version does place a greater emphasis on conflict, and makes for a more interesting and interactive game.
Make no mistake, Antler Island is more suited for casual gamers and families. It is NOT a deep game. The mechanics are quite basic, and the decisions to be made are not very taxing. Turns generally consist of quick movements to adjacent territories in order to gain food and mate. Amassing numerous food tokens and growing antlers relatively quickly are important tactics, as one must earn at least one fight token in order to be eligible to win the game. Due to the generous placement of new does each turn, there is usually an ample supply of females with which to mate. Food can be a bit scarcer, but there usually isn’t a dire shortage.
Fortunately, the game plays to completion quickly. Otherwise, the basic strategies and mechanisms would likely cause it to grow stale. Even using the fighting cubes, there isn’t much here to entice gamers seeking deep strategies or tough decisions. Rather, the game is much more likely to find its home in the family setting, where it should shine.
While I was busy finding and mating with does, my opponents concentrated on using their food to grow bigger and stronger antlers. So, I had to take a break from more pleasant activities to also grow antlers so I could better compete in combat. I was forced to run away twice, losing both of my fighting cubes. I was ready to pounce on the loser of the conflict between Rhonda and Lourdes, but Lourdes opted to retreat instead. Thus, I was never able to win a fight, and was therefore ineligible to win the game.
Lourdes reached the magic mark of twelve on the doe track, thereby ending the game. Rhonda had only mated with eight does, but earned three points for being on the top level, and another point for having the correct combination of fighting cubes. Both ladies tied for the most antlers, but Rhonda won on the second tie-breaker by having her stag located on a higher level.
Finals: Rhonda 12, Lourdes 12, Greg 11
Ratings: Rhonda 6.5, Lourdes 6.5, Greg 5.5